Netflix Halloween 2015 : “Asmodexia”


Trash Film Guru

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I don’t know much about Spanish director Marc Carrete, but I’ll say this much for the guy : he seems to be a man of his word.

His 2014 Barcelona-filmed Asmodexia, which generated at least a little bit of buzz over the past year or so on the horror festival circuit before making its way onto various on-demand and streaming platforms (including, of course, Netflix, which is why we’re talking about it here), billed itself as a “different take” on the exorcism sub-genre, and whaddya know, even though we’ve heard that same pitch a hundred times before, in this case it’s actually true.

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Which isn’t to say, mind you, that it’s an entirely successful “new take,” but at least this story of five days in the life of travelling exorcist Eloy de Palma (Luis Marco) and his grand-daughter, Alba (Claudia Pons)  offers up a fairly generous number of…

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Horror Scenes I Love: Salem’s Lot (Part 2)


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“Look at me teacher.”

Those were some of the most terrifying words I’ve ever heard growing up. It’s all because of one scene from the tv mini-series which adapted Stephen King’s vampire novel, Salem’s Lot. It was a scene in the novel that terrified me as a young boy reading King for the first time.

I’ve always been gifted (or I sometimes say cursed) with having a very overactive imagination. This is why horror has always been such a fascinating genre for me. Even where the horror is all up in one’s face with it’s gore and messy aftermath my mind’s eye would make things worst or just constantly play it on repeat in my head days after the film has ended. It’s even worst when the horror comes across less through gore and more through atmosphere and built-up dread moving towards a jump-scare or something more insidious.

This particular scene is my second favorite from the Salem’s Lot mini-series. The first one I had posted a couple years back which just barely lags behind this one for third. What made this scene so effective despite it’s tv-style production was Tobe Hooper’s direction. Despite working with the censorship inherent in broadcast tv, Hooper was able to create a palpable sense of dread as the old English teacher Matt Burke senses a presence up in one of his house’s rooms. It was the same room where one of his former students had passed away in his sleep.

As the audience we already have an idea who or what is in that second floor room. Matt Burke has an idea as well, but his morbid curiosity wins out as he decides to investigate. Yet, despite such a lack in judgement he does come armed with a crucifix in hand. The way the scene builds and builds as Burke climbs the stairs and hesitating before opening the door to the room was almost too much to bear.

The reveal of his former student, Mike Ryerson, back in the room sitting in the rocking chair as one of the undead only increases the horror of the scene. His snake-like mannerisms was a new take on the vampire behavior. It’s not the usual silk and lace bloodsucker we grew up watching. This was a vampire that behaved like a predator beguiling it’s next prey. From the way Ryerson (played by Geoffrey Lewis) hissed his words and undulated his body as he stood to face his former teacher was disturbing at the very least.

Just writing about it and seeing the scene for the umpteenth time still gives me the shakes.

Horror on TV: The Twilight Zone 1.13 — “The Four of Us Are Dying”


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In this episode of the Twilight Zone, a con man (Harry Townes) has the ability to change his face to make himself appear like anyone he wants to be. Needless to say, this ability doesn’t quite work out as well for him as he might have hoped.

This episode originally aired on January 1st, 1960.

(If the video is not showing up below — some browsers apparently have problems showing embedded videos from Hulu — you can watch the episode at http://www.hulu.com/watch/440771.)

Netflix Halloween 2015 : “Pernicious”


Trash Film Guru

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Indie director James Cullen Bressack is quickly making a name for himself as a guy who’s not afraid to “go there.” The last one of his films that we looked at around these parts, 2011’s Hate Crime, was a visceral tour-de-force of sleazy unpleasantness, and with his latest, 2014’s Pernicious, he adds a supernatural flair to the proceedings that in no way diminishes their right-the-fuck-up-in-your-face power. In short, it appears as though he’s learned how to translate “his type” of gut-punch cinema into a package that might have a bit more mass appeal, but without watering things down in any way.

That’s a pretty solid accomplishment right there, when you think about it, but don’t go getting worried that Bressack is on the verge of “selling out.” Truth be told, his obsessions are still too gleefully prurient to ever make it into the “mainstream,” and while that may…

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The Daily Horror Grindhouse: Savage Weekend (dir by David Paulsen)


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Filmed in 1976 but not released until 1979, Savage Weekend is the story of a brave boom mic that takes a trip to upstate New York for the weekend and ends up witnessing a lot of decadent behavior and, eventually, a few gruesome murders.  Sadly, the brave little boom mic apparently has no social skills because everyone pretends like they don’t see it, even though it shows up a few dozen times, always floating at the top of the screen.

It’s also the story of Otis (William Sanderson), a local redneck (I’ve never been to upstate New York but I still find it amusing how movies always portray it as being a step away from Deliverance country) who spends his time talking to his father’s gravestone.  Apparently, when Otis was younger, he found out his girlfriend was cheating on him so he branded her with an H.  Why an H?  Because, we’re told, Otis doesn’t know how to spell whore.

Well, okay then…

Actually, if you’ve watched any number of these type of films, you’ll immediately recognize William Sanderson.  Sanderson played a countless number of backwoods weirdos and he always did a pretty good job.  (He also played the poignantly sympathetic J.F. Sebastian in Blade Runner.)  Interestingly enough, in real life, Sanderson has a law degree.

Savage Weekend, incidentally, has a brilliant opening.  After running through the woods, a woman finds herself cornered by Otis.  As Otis approaches her, he gives her a strange little half-smile.  It’s super creepy and scary and the rest of the film never lives up to it.

That said, Savage Weekend is an interesting film, even if it’s not a particularly good one.  I’m not sure if it’s intentional or if it’s a happy byproduct of the filmmaker’s general incompetence but Savage Weekend has a truly surreal feel to it.  It moves at a deliberate, almost dream-like pace.  Characters appear and then vanish for lengthy periods of time.  Plot points are raised and then abandoned.  As a result of an inconsistent script, much is hinted at without ever being truly revealed.  It makes for a very odd viewing experience.

Plotwise, it’s your standard slasher film.  A group of people find themselves in an isolated location and are picked off, one-by-one, by a masked killer.  Whereas most slasher films feature teenage victims, Savage Weekend is distinguished by the fact that all of the victims are adults and they’re all way too old and successful to justify continually making the type of stupid decisions necessary for a slasher movie to work.  Two of them, Robert (Jim Doerr) and Jay (Devin Goldenberg), are stockbrokers.  Marie (Marilyn Hamlin) is the ex-wife of the Governor of New York’s press secretary.  (At one point, someone mentions that the governor was corrupt and apparently committed suicide.  It’s one of those plot points that comes out of nowhere.)  Meanwhile, Marie’s sister, Shirley (Caitlin O’Heany), is accompanied by her best friend, Nicky (Christopher Allport).  Nicky is flamboyantly gay and, shortly after being introduced, he single-handedly beats up three rednecks and then dramatically announced, “I was raised in the Bronx!”

Since the first murder doesn’t take place until an hour into the film, we spend more time than usual getting to know our victims but none of them behave in any sort of consistent manner, which adds to the film’s dreamlike feel.  Nicky clutches a barbed wire fence while watching Shirley fool around with Jay.  Marie appears to be on the verge of touching herself while listening to the story about Otis branding his girlfriend.  Later, a good deal of screen time is devoted to Marie and another redneck milking a cow, with the camera zooming in on the milk shooting out of the udders.  While being stalked by the killer, Nicky puts on makeup while a lingerie-clad Shirley dances through the house while tango music plays on the soundtrack.

It all just feels very odd and strangely paced, as if huge chunks of the script were either not filmed or left on the editing room floor.  But that oddness (along with the boom mic) is exactly what makes Savage Weekend an interesting movie.

Halloween Havoc!: Lon Chaney Jr in SPIDER BABY (American General 1964)


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SPIDER BABY is probably my favorite horror-comedy ever, and I include ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN in that statement. This gruesome tale almost didn’t see the light of day, as the original producers went bankrupt, but independent auteur David L. Hewitt (THE WIZARD OF MARS, MONSTERS CRASH THE PAJAMA PARTY) picked it up for his American General distribution company in 1968. Hewitt then used it as the second half of double feature bills. Known variously as CANNIBAL ORGY, THE MADDEST STORY EVER TOLD, and THE LIVER EATERS, SPIDER BABY has become a cult classic.

We learn in the beginning that the descendants of Ebeneezer Merrye are dying out due to the dreaded  “Merrye Syndrome”- a rare affliction causing it’s victims to regress to a sub-human, cannibalistic state. The always welcome Mantan Moreland is seen delivering a package to the creepy old Merrye house. Mantan does some of his tried-and-true “scaredy cat” schtick while looking around the deserted joint. He sticks his head in a…

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Horror Film Review: The Curse of the Cat People (dir by Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise)


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So, you can add the 1944 film The Curse of the Cat People to the list of films that made me cry.

And I know that you’re probably going to point out that it’s already a very long list and I know that some people believe that I cry at every movie that I see.  (Listen, if I cried every time that I watched a movie, that would mean that not a single hour would pass without me shedding tears and … well, anyway, lets move on…)  But seriously, The Curse of the Cat People is a wonderful and heartfelt film.

Technically, it’s a sequel to the original Cat People.  Oliver (Kent Smith) and Alice (Jane Randolph) are married now and they have a six year-old daughter named Amy (Ann Carter).  Irena (Simone Simon) does return but we’re never quite sure whether she’s a ghost or if she’s meant to be a figment of Amy’s imagination.  There is no mention of Irena being cursed, though a hissing cat does make an appearance at the beginning of the film.  In the original Cat People, Elizabeth Russell played a mysterious woman who asked if Irena was her sister.  In The Curse of the Cat People, Russell appears in a different role but, interestingly enough, she’s still linked to the memory of Irena.

Instead, The Curse of the Cat People is about Amy.  Amy is a shy girl who spends most of her time daydreaming and Ann Carter (who was 8 years old at the time) gives a very real and very authentic performance, one that is totally the opposite of the type of performance that we often expect from child actors.  I was a shy child myself (I was famous for always hiding behind my mom whenever I saw a stranger approaching) and, from the minute Amy appeared, I knew exactly how she felt and what was going through her mind.

While Alice feels that Amy’s daydreaming is harmless, Oliver worries about her daughter.  At one point, he says that he fears that she’ll never leave her fantasy world and that she’ll grow up to be like Irena.  (Interestingly enough, this line suggests that Oliver still doesn’t believe that Irena was actually a cat person.)  Amy, meanwhile, has a vision of Irena standing in the backyard and soon, the two of them are best friends.

At the same time, Amy has also become friends with Julia Farren (Julia Dean), an elderly woman who lives in the neighborhood.  Just like Amy, Julia lives in a fantasy world.  She treats Amy like her own daughter.  Meanwhile, Julia refuses to acknowledge her true daughter, Barbara (Elizabeth Russell), accusing Barbara of being a spy and saying she is only pretending to be her daughter.  Barbara grows more and more resentful of Amy and that resentment leads her to consider doing a truly terrible thing.

I guess it’s debatable whether or not The Curse of the Cat People can truly be called a horror film.  While it does have elements of the horror genre, The Curse of the Cat People is ultimately both a coming-of-age story and a plea for adults to allow their children to be children.  It’s all so heartfelt and so wonderfully performed by Ann Carter, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Elizabeth Russell, and Simone Simon that I couldn’t help but cry at the end of the film.  The Curse of the Cat People is a great film to watch in October or any other month.